Both England and Croatia were touted as the ‘dark horses’ of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia, but they now have a realistic chance of winning the cup with only two matches to go. They will meet each other at the Lukhniki Stadium in Moscow,Russia on Wednesday late evening.In their respective quarterfinal matches, England saw off Sweden in a convincing 2-0 rout whereas Croatia defeated host nation Russia via penalties. Both the teams have met each other 7 times before with England winning on 4 and Croatia on 2 occasions respectively. This is for the first time that they will face each other in the FIFA World Cup tournament.Let’s now quickly do a preview of England vs Croatia semifinal match and find out their team news,star players and strategies they are likely to opt for this game.
Team News- Gareth Southgate likes to field a 3-1-4-2 team formation in crunch matches and is unlikely to change it against the Croats. He will get a fully fit squad at his disposal against Croatia in the semifinals. There were concerns with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s thumb injury which he picked up against Sweden, but he himself allayed any fitness issues. Another player who is recuperating from an injury is Jamie Vardy, but chances of his recovery are bright. Coach Southgate will not tweak with his winning team combination and field an unchanged team against Croatia. Pickford will start in goal with the inform defensive trio of Harry Maguire,John Stones and Kylie Walker in front. Jordan Henderson will continue to play the role of a sweeper and the midfield quartet of Ashely Young,Dele Alli,Jese lingard and Kieren Trippier will take charge of the midfield.Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling will be striking partners upfront. Harry Kane would be desperate to add to his tally of 6 goals after he missed out on the scoring sheet against the Swedes in the quarterfinals.
Strategy- Coach Southgate needs to replicate the game they displayed in the quarterfinals against Sweden. The midfield has to be agile and needs to constantly feed the striking duo with passes and crosses in the box. They also need to spread their play to the wings where they can utilize the speed of Young,Trippier and Sterling. Henderson will have his work cut out to suppress Modric’s impact on the midfield.At the back, the defensive trio along with Henderson needs to stay close and not provide any room to their opponents.
Star Players- Skipper Harry Kane and Kieren Trippier has been the standout players for England in this tournament. Harry Kane leads the race to the ‘Golden Boot’ award by scoring 6 goals so far. His scoring frequency is an astonishing 61 minutes per goal. Not only that he has won an average of 9 one to one duels against his opponents. On the other hand, Trippier has been the biggest revelation of the English team with his consistent displays throughout the tournament. He has created the most number of clear cut chances (5 to be exact) for the attackers upfront. His tackling,passing and crosses has been brilliant.
Predicted England XI- Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Henderson, Alli, Lingard, Young, Sterling, Kane
Team News- Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia has already achieved the unthinkable by reaching the semifinals of the tournament. They were never touted to reach the last four, but they proved their worth by displaying brilliant team game led by their midfield maestro and skipper Luka Modric. Croatia along with Belgium are the only teams to have won all their games so far in the tournament which alone is no mean feet although they had to scrape past Denmark and host Russia in the knock out stages through penalties. Croatia’s biggest worry would be the squad exhaustion and also fitness concerns of their two extremely key players in star goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and right fullback Sime Vrsaljko. Both of them have been kept under observation. Both of them are expected to take start in the match against England.Coach Dalic will stick to his 4-2-3-1 team formation with Subasic in goal, and the defensive quartet of Ivan Strinic,Domagoj Vida,Dejan Lovren and Sime Vrsaljko in front. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will take charge of the central midfield. Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic will attack through the wings, while Andrej Kramaric will play in the hole just behind Mario Mandzukic. Kramaric was very effectively used by Dalic in the last game against Russia where he not only created many chances for the forwards but also scored a crucial equalizer.
Strategy- Croatia will certainly look to take control of the midfield with players like Modric and Rakitic at their disposal. It will be difficult for Henderson alone to keep a check on them. Modric’s brilliant game reading with accurate passing and crossing can put England to back foot. If Croatia can score early, then it will be difficult for the English to find an equalizer past a compact and robust Croat defense.
Star Players- The midfield combination of Modric and Rakitic are second to none in this tournament. Skipper Modric’s performance has been exemplary. Not only he has 2 goals and 1 assist to his credit,his passing accuracy is more than a creditable 81% with an average successful take ons of 3 per game. Rakitic has also been splendid throughout the tournament with a passing accuracy of more than 85% and an average of 2 successful take-ons and tackles per game.He has also found the back of the net once against Argentina.
Predicted Croatia XI: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Modric, Rebic, Kramaric, Perisic, Mandzukic.
Prediction: England 1-2 Croatia